Six inspirational speakers shared their stories at the TEDxAmsterdam Schiphol Side Event at The Base on 29 November. Among them was Rob van den Berg, director of Space Expo Noordwijk, who spoke about extraterrestrial life. 'We might just be receiving the first radio signals tomorrow.'
Is there extraterrestrial life in space?
Rob: 'If liquid water is found anywhere in space, scientists assume that conditions will be favourable for life to develop. Places have already been found in our solar system where there is liquid water. There is liquid water under the ice on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and we know that Mars previously had oceans of water. Knowing that there are unbelievably many planets in the universe that resemble Earth, there must be life in other places. Most scientists believe that extraterrestrial life exists. I certainly do. The only thing is that it's never been proven. Extraterrestrial life could involve single-celled organisms, such as algae and bacteria. Scientists would already be overjoyed if proof of these were found. There is a possibility that complex life exists, like plants, animals and intelligent life forms.'
How do you look for extraterrestrial life?
'This is done with telescopes on Earth and with space telescopes. The new generation of telescopes allows us to measure certain gases on planets, such as oxygen, which strongly suggest there could be life. We do research with radio telescopes. If there are intelligent life forms anywhere else, you can assume that they will be sending signals. We have been monitoring whether there are any radio signals to be picked up for dozens of years, but haven't found any yet. Is there any point to this? Yes, and there are still so many stars and planets to look for. Who knows? We might just be receiving the first radio signals tomorrow.'
And what if you really want to prove that extraterrestrial life exists?
'Then you need to send a satellite. And that's the problem. It takes seven months to reach Mars, a decade to reach a moon of Jupiter, and tens of thousands of years to get to another star. That's impossible, of course, and frustrating. If we were to discover signs of life, we wouldn't be able to visit.'
Which other speaker did you find interesting at TEDx?
'There was an artist who also discussed the universe. He indicated that we shouldn't bring technology to the Moon, but start over, like our forefathers in the early days of our civilisation. He wants to transport that idea to the Moon as an artistic concept.'
What do Space Expo and Schiphol have in common?
'Space flight and aviation are converging. In the future, airports will be the place to go to for commercial space flights. Companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic want to offer manned space flights to paying customers. There will be rocket aircraft that can fly from New York to Sydney in under an hour. The airports of today are the spaceports of the future. It will take a while before this transpires at Schiphol, probably a few decades. But if it all really does take off, existing airports will have to give up some of their capacity to space flight. Specialised spaceports are already under construction, such as the one that Virgin Galactic is building in New Mexico in the US. Elon Musk announced that he wants to build one offshore near New York. The prospects are interesting.'